Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats

the mind'; 6an excessive study of mathematics absolutely inca-
pacitates the mind for those intellectual energies which philo-
sophy and life require*; 'mathematics can not conduce to
logical habits at all'; 4in mathematics dullness is thus elevated
into talent, and talent degraded into incapacity'; 'mathematics
may distort, but can never rectify, the mind\
This is only a handful of the birdshot; we have not room for
the cannon balls. The whole attack is most impressive - for a
man who knew far less mathematics than any intelligent child
of ten knows. One last shot deserves special mention, as it
introduces the figure of mathematical importance in the whole
wordy war, De Morgan (180^-71), one of the most expert
controversialists who ever lived, a mathematician of vigorous
independence, a great logician who prepared the way for Boole,
the remorselessly good-humoured enemy of all cranks, char-
latans, and humbugs, and finally father of the famous novelist
(Alice for ShoTt> etc.). Hamilton remarks, 'This [a perfectly
nonsensical reason that need not be repeated] is why Mr De
Morgan among other mathematicians so often argues right.
Still, had Mr De Morgan been less of a Mathematician, he might
have been more of a Philosopher; and be it remembered, that
mathematics and dram-drinking tell especially, in the long run.'
Although the esoteric punctuation is obscure the meaning is
clear enough. But it was not De Morgan who was given to
De Morgan, having gained some fame from his pioneering
studies in logic, allowed himself in an absent-minded moment
to be trapped into a controversy with Hamilton over the
latter's famous principle of *the quantification of the predicate,'
There is no need to explain what this mystery is (or was); it is as
dead as a coffin nail* De Morgan had made a real contribution to
the syllogism; Hamilton thought he detected De Morgan's
diamond in his own blue mud; the irate Scottish lawyer-philo-
sopher publicly accused De Morgan of plagiarism - an insanely
unphflosophical thing to do - and the fight was on. On De
Morgan's side, at least, the row was a hilarious frolic. De
Morgan never lost his temper; Hamilton had never learned to
keep his*